Friday, July 3, 2020

The Awning

1st July

The Awning.

Today, we had a delivery. An awning. I'd not planned to have an awning for our small camper, especially as we've only done wild camping in the past and had intended to continue to do so for the foreseeable  future. In my mind we didn't have any use for one.
But that, like many things, was before Covid 19, before borders were shut, before we were unable to travel any distance at all.
We would have been away in Cornwall  for the whole of May and most of June, camping in hidden places, finding off the beaten track spots where few people would come.
That was the plan.
Campsites will  open on 4th July

Now, being  reluctant to go wild camping with policing being more vigilant,  we've booked some time away in Cornwall at a campsite. At a campsite!
Hence the awning.
It looks like this:

The Cubo Campervan Awning Camper van Awning Fiberglass Pole Drive Away Awning
We've spent ten weeks travelling through France and Spain, another ten touring Ireland and I could probably count on my fingers the number of
 times, due to wanting a shower and clean clothes, we had a night in a campsite. We rarely spent two together.

Funnily enough , I am positively warming to the idea of the awning, seeing  that it could bring many worthwhile  benefits.

It's a drive away tent, which means we can still take off and explore the countryside and have a base to come back to . So convenient. When we're wild camping we often spend quite a bit of time searching for somewhere to park for the night. 
Another bonus is the extra space it'll give us making  our daily living arrangements so much more comfortable.

To be fair, rather than going for comfort in the past, we've gone for the open road and touring. It's been great finding unusual places to park up for the night, not putting the top up so that we look like a big car. Incognito.

So, this will be a very different trip for us, a   more relaxing experience. Staying in one place has its advantages. We won't have to pack up every day. We can still explore our surroundings by walking which means we'll get to know the area well.

Hopefully, I'll get  to write about our adventures on my  blog in a travel writerly sort of way. Well, it'll be my version of Travel Writing anyway. And I'll have time for more reading which I have difficulty fitting in when we're on the road and I have to navigate.
Yes, it'll be more leisurely all round.

We also treated ourselves to some new camping chairs, similar to the previous two, which, after three years,  had become  rather tatty. And although we went for the cheapest again,  the new ones are so much kinder to the body.

Of course, we had to try the awning out straight away. Can't turn up at the campsite and look like idiots. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the back garden, so we put it together on the front drive, after parking the camper in the road. Having had years of experience putting up tents of all shapes and sizes,we had it sussed in no time. Actually, about ten minutes, which we thought was pretty good. Packing it away was the most difficult part, getting it small enough to go back in the carry bag took two attempts. But we know this for next time.


I'm so looking forward to heading off. Let's just hope the weather is good to us. But even if it isn't we've got a new "holiday home" to get used to and will enjoy the extra space.

Have you an experience to share about camping??

Sunday, June 28, 2020

For You Jan

28th June 2020

For You Jan -  A Little Ramble.

You are with me, in my mediation, this morning.
You, dressed in purple,pink and red, 
making flames dance daintily or your face.
Diamond stars sparkle below your ears.

 Your smile, encourages, welcomes, comforts me 
good to see you, dear Jan . 
You ask me, with interest,  to tell you more, 
more about the Irish trip. 

More about those trad evenings 
you,  I know,  love everything Celtic. 
So, stay awhile, let me tell you about Jim o the Mill.
An old farmhouse cottage, thatched, hidden,

 along a boreen, way up in the mountains, not easy to get to. 
Round the outside of the house, lights, lanterns, balloons,
 in multitudinous colours, decorate the windows and walls,
like its Christmas.

 Cars line the lanes, fill the fields. 
Musicians gather, eagerly cradle their instruments, 
Ah, I see your eyes widen now, music is always your thing
Shall I go on? 

Others, greet with hugs, ask how each other are, like it’s a family affair.
 But we also  meet travellers who’ve come from afar
Africa, America, Germany, even Bulgaria.  World renowned is farmer Jim.
 A  micro bar, the size of a tiny parlour, open only on Thursdays

Serves Guinness and Cola and Irish whiskey.
We’ve become fond of the Guinness.  The evening unfolds
 music, poetry, storytelling fill the three small rooms. 
Bodies squeeze in too, sit on benches, on dirt floor, or perch on stairs. 

We are in the room where Kathleen is, my cousin, with her fiddle. 
A boy, about ten, with an accordian, as well as a head of curly, red hair,
An American with his guitar.  One begins to play a tune, others join in, 
even if they’ve never heard it. This is an Irish  ramble, all are welcome.

Anyone can play their instrument, or sing or recite poetry or tell a story.
 I look around. You’d love it, the atmosphere. 
In the open hearth the fire gives a soft glow to the spirit, 
far away places imagined in burning sods. 

On shelves, antique looking tea pots, family photos, crock jugs, books.
On walls, fiddles, art work done long ago by children now with grandchildren of their own, and is that a pitch fork, and beside it a hoe,  yes. 
We’re encouraged to join in with songs we know. I know a few, folk, rebel.

My cousin sings for me – Tipperary Far Away, I swallow holding back a river.
An American intones an old Irish balled, haunting,  
hits a hollow deep inside-  I’m off again. I imagine you with us dear Jan, 
shutting your eyes as you do when you listen with intent.

 We leave at 1.30 in the morning, no sign of the night coming to an end. Apparently, you’ll like this, if you’re there in the morning, 
when the sun comes up, they’ll cook you sausages and bacon.
Thanks for listening, until we meet again, so long, Jan, dear friend.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Jan /Nan

Image may contain: Janet Cook, sitting
25th June 2020

Death Resurrects old Memories 

8.40 pm 22nd June 2020. 

I didn't want to believe what I read. For a moment the words, there in black and white, somersaulted in my brain. It can't be. We were only told around midday that she was improving, that they were discussing how they'd rearrange the house for when she came home, make things
 easier for her.

Then, like a wild animal I let out, I don't know how, it wasn't me, but the most piercing scream. I couldn't help it . It came from some deep place that I didn't know was within me.
"What's up?"  Peter asked, concerned.
He came rushing over. I handed him my phone. It took him a few seconds to understand..By this time my whole body was shaking and tears were flowing. He drew me close, held on tight and added his own sobs to the river of sadness .
She'd died at 6.40 pm Mandy informed us. It was a shock to everyone she went on.
Poor Mandy, I thought, best friends for many years. If it affected us , how was she doing.

All of us from the writer's group she belonged to are devastated. There's something about sharing your writing that is so intimate, nothing compares to it, where you are exposed for who you are like nowhere else. 

Jan's death and the Mediterranean weather we're having just now, sent me back to last year and our trip to Ireland. Jan had a keen interest in all things Irish -  culture, spirituality, music. We had planned to have gatherings at her home to share our favourite Irsih / Celtic songs. Apart form all her other talents, too numerous to mention, she was an accomplished musician.

May 31st 2019 From an entry in my journal.

We leave Portumna after evening Mass, which celebrated the important  Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin, recollecting  the time when  Mary, after being told by the Angel that not only was she herself going to have a child but that her cousin Elizabeth also had conceived and was now in her sixth month.
It's late evening when we drive into Thurles, past images which run like a grainy film through my mind, backwards and forwards, into each other. Silently, concentrating,  I scan  for familiar landmarks.

 As we pass through the square, how busy, I think, I see the tower of the Cathedral on the other side. A good  clue. I could walk to nan's house from here, a familiar route that she and I took a along the River Suir from the bottom of nan's road. Her short round body held up by little stick legs, an old brown shopping bag over her arm, we'd chat about the issues of the day, or the weather,especially if it was either extremely hot or cold, or  members of the family and what they were up to. Every day her and I would walk to early mass -  her routine. Now, in 2020, it's mine too, though not in Pandemic time.

We drive  round the square twice, park in the busy car park . What shall we do now? 
We make a cup of coffee, while I try to find  my bearings.  It's great travelling in the camper, being able to stop anywhere and make ourselves drinks or lunch or dinner. Staring out into the crowded square I don't  recognise the shops. I search for the window of Walter Maloney's . This is where nan came, or sent me, every day to get the messages. At Walter's you'd find bacon, bread, brickets, and all manner of items for everyday use. He seemed to have everything. A mini, mini, precursor to the modern day supermarket. There's a shop that looks as if it could be the place - Theresa's Tanning Palour. Whether it is or it isn't , it looks as if Walter is no longer around.

 There are  more roads leading off the square than I remember.
I see one I do know. I've walked it many , many times.
I turn to Peter. All this time he's left me with my own thoughts. I'm grateful for that.
"I need to go find the house, you know, just to look," I try to  persuade him? "And we might find somewhere better to stay than this car park, more quiet."  He's been driving for hours and is more than happy to stay put. But I also know that he'd prefer a more secluded spot.
"Fine," he says. We put the kettle in it's place in the cupboard and the cups in the sink.  I feel a bit guilty asking, as he's so tired, but I can't wait till morning.

We drive down the Mall in silence, my stomach churning, I'm so emotional, I cannot speak, what am I expecting? As we get near Kavanagh Place, the houses become familiar. It's on the left just a little way down. There is a huge Dunnes Store on the corner now, a prominent feature that slightly  puts me off. But now I see the Guards Barracks. Ah here we are. I point left. We turn .

Signs everywhere tell us, "Residents Parking only" What happened to this quiet road a couple of  miles outside the town?  So many thoughts run through my mind. We pass Mrs Peter's house, a wealthy neighbour, good to nan, bringing her groceries and other essentials in difficult times. And there are the gates of Lyons' scrap yard. This family had twelve children and I spent many a summer in and out of their house. I had a crush on Conor, two years older than me. He taught me Irish rebel songs. I loved it, got quite keen on "the cause". He joined the IRA later.

We stop where Casey's used to be, beside nan's house. Although their signs are still up, and there is a tin lean to which they'd attached to nan's cottage, there is nothing else but an empty yard. I glimpse the house, now, is some one trying to do it up? It's hard to hold back the tears - yet why should I cry?

There's the window, on the left as I look up,  of the bedroom where I slept. When my mother and her six brothers and sister were children , this was their room, a double bed for the girls at one end and another for the boys at the other. Mum told me stories of her sisters wetting the bed and waking up in a pool of water. She sighted this as one of the reasons she fled home, never to return except to visit her mother.

On the right the two small windows of nan's bedroom. Here, when I was much younger, I would often sleep with her, unaware then of the impact that closeness would have on my life. Here, in the dark, I learned to pray, as nan would recite her rosary or other prayers. A whiff  of diesel will always brings me back there, back to the sound of Casey's lorries outside those windows.

Downstairs, on the left, the teeney sitting room, only enough space  here for a tv, a coffee table and two arm chairs. This, the best room, was rarely entered. On the right the window of my favourite ,  the kitchen. Here, kept warm and welcoming by the range, all generations, all classes of people would gather, tell stories, drink tea, eat Marie biscuits, the key always left in the door - an open invite. Above the farmhouse table, set into the wall space next to the window, a picture of the Sacred Heart.
Lots of images pile into my mind, as I stand and stare. My feet rooted to this spot where the mist of my ancestors dwells.  No one lives here now. A hole in the roof the size of a football goal has let the rain in for a good many months.

"Shall we take some pictures?" His words bring me suddenly back to the present.
"Yes, good idea," He's been patient, bless him.

"Let's go and find somewhere to park up," we are reluctant to stay in Kavanagh Place with the lines in the road and the signs , added to that the Guarda at the top of the road.

But after we drive around and around and don't find anywhere we come back,  and chancing our arm, spend the night next to Casey's yard with a good view of the cottage. It feels good to be here. Shame about the house, I suppose it will have to be pulled down.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Writers Hour quotes.

Words of Wisdom via Alastair Humphreys:

"It helps if you can separate what is urgent from what is important. Superficially the two words are similar. But extrapolate your life a few decades, and they lead to very different destinations. Urgent shouts more loudly than Important. But Important is, well, important.

On the first Tuesday of every month, my calendar pings a reminder at me. That’s standard, of course; my life is ruled by a crowded calendar (because I am the King of Busy). But this is one ping I always enjoy. Indeed, the busier I am, the more I appreciate the interruption. And that is because my calendar tells me to ‘Climb a Tree’. 

It reminds me to step away from the aimless conference calls and the interruptions and spend 20 minutes doing something which I will never regret. 

 It is a pleasant way to measure and notice the changing seasons…I hope that I never deem myself too busy with urgent tasks to do something as important as climbing a tree."

Today's words of wisdom via David Bowie:

“I think it’s terrible when artists work to fulfil other people’s expectations…

If you feel safe in the area you’re working in you’re not working in the right area. Always go further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little out of your depth and when you don’t quite feel that your feet are touching the bottom you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” –David Bowie

Today Neil Gaiman:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever."

Ryan Holiday

"You will come across obstacles in life - fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determined how successful we will be in overcoming - or possibly thriving because of - them.


– Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

Today's words of wisdom via friend of the Salon, agent Rachel Mann:

“Ultimately you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work. The judgment that a work is complete—this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it—can come only from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who’s learned to read her own work. Group criticism is great training for self-criticism. But until quite recently no writer had that training, and yet they learned what they needed. They learned it by doing it.” 
― Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

Some gentle words from the wise Mary Oliver:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Today's words of wisdom via Ryan Holiday:

"People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don't, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification.

Making a beloved classic that last for more than 100 years may seem like tall order. Fine, put that aside. What if we start by just trying to make something that lasts longer than average.

Let's start by internalizing the best practices of those who've achieved intermediate and lasting success so we can give ourselves the best chance of joining the lofty perch of those who have made something truly perennial and timeless. Let's be truly ambitious."   Perennial Seller

Or in Wendell Berry's words, we did "our real work":

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work
and when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

― Wendell Berry, Our Real Work
Today's words of wisdom from Rumi:

“I said: what about my eyes?

He said: Keep them on the road.

I said: What about my passion?

He said: Keep it burning.

I said: What about my heart?

He said: Tell me what you hold inside it?

I said: Pain and sorrow.

He said: Stay with it. The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

Nice work today writers. We showed up and did our job.

Today's words of wisdom (thank you Graham for the curation and reading):

“To speak out about the world as it is, says James Baldwin, is the writer’s job.”

"Writers are extremely important people in a country, whether or not the country knows it. The multiple truths about a people are revealed by that people’s artists - that is what the artists are for...

It seems to me that the truth about us, as individual men and women, and as a nation, has been, and is being recorded, whether we wish to read it or not. Perhaps we cannot read it now, but the day is coming when we will have nothing else to read. 

We are the generation that must throw everything into the endeavor to remake America into what we say we want it to be. Without this endeavor, we will perish. However immoral or subversive this may sound to some, it is the writer who must always remember that morality. If it is to remain or become morality, it must be perpetually examined, cracked, changed, made new...Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

James Baldwin

Via Anna, today's words of wisdom from Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

–Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things

Today's words of wisdom via the one and only Maya Angelou:

“I’ve always had the feeling that life loves the liver of it. You must live and life will be good to you, 
give you experiences. They may not all be that pleasant, but nobody promised you a rose garden.
. But more than likely if you do dare, what you get are the marvelous returns. Courage is probably 
the most important of the virtues, because without courage you cannot practice any of the other
 virtues, you can’t say against a murderous society, I oppose your murdering. You got to have
 courage to do so. I seem to have known that a long time and found great joy in it.”

– Maya Angelou, 

Today's words of wisdom:

"Every single day, I get emails from aspiring writers asking my advice about how to become a writer, and here is the only advice I can give: Don’t make stuff because you want to make money — it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous — because you will never feel famous enough. 

Make gifts for people — and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.

 Maybe they will notice how hard you worked, and maybe they won’t — and if they don’t notice, I know it’s frustrating. But, ultimately, that doesn’t change anything — because your responsibility is not to the people you’re making the gift for, but to the gift itself."

– John Green (author of the Fault in Our Stars)

Today's words of wisdom via lovely Mary Oliver:

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

– Mary Oliver,
Thanks for writing with us today. Today's words of wisdom from Mary Oliver:

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.
 There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.
 We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. 
Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back,
 that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. 
It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins.
 Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. 
Joy is not made to be a crumb. 

– Mary Oliver, 

PS - Today's words of wisdom:

"We push and push - to get a raise, a new client, to prevent some exigency from happening.
 In fact, the best way to get what we want might be to reexamine the desires in the first place.
 Or it might be to sim for something else entirely and use the impediment as an opportunity to
 explore a new direction…

We wrongly assume that moving forward is the only way to progress, the only way we can win.

Sometimes, staying put, going sideways, or moving backward is actually the best way to eliminate
 what blocks or impedes your path. There is a certain humility required in the approach. It means 
accepting that the way you originally wanted to do things is not possible…We can use the things 
that block us to our advantage."

― Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way

Friday, June 5, 2020

Actually it's Eleven

4th June 2020

Ten Things Of Thankful.

I thought for the TTOT today I'd share a chapter from my memoir. I am enormously thankful to God for all the experiences here.
I could count to many more than ten, but hey, who's counting. And to be fair who can count God's blessings.
Obviously, as it's just a chapter in the middle of my memoir, there is some knowledge that is assumed. If you want clarification please ask.

Actually It's Eleven

October 1982

I enjoyed my pregnancy and planned to do things right this time. My wonderful midwife, Brenda Tucker gave me a book on breastfeeding, “Breast is Best”. It became my bible. The first time round I got mastitis and was advised to stop feeding which put me off trying again the second time.

 With number three I was determined to get it right. Everything natural, including a home birth and no pain relief.  Studying the book, I could see where I had gone wrong before, which made me a bit sad, but also gave me great hope that I could succeed. I read it from cover to cover over and over. 

“I’ll book you into the midwives’ unit. It’s homely and you’ll be out six hours after the birth. It’ll be fine.” She patted my hand. She knew I was  disappointed, apparently, too high a risk for home birth because of the twisted womb that I was left with after Emma.

“And I’ll try my best to be there and if it’s not me, the rest of the team are brilliant too,” she smiled. I had come to rely on her. She understood exactly where I was coming from. I had seen a few of the other midwives. They were lovely, but Brenda was special, we had a bond. Even when I said I’d like to try without pain relief she said she’d help me with that. One of the others just laughed saying, “we’ll see.” I think it was because Brenda treated me with dignity, as an intelligent person, that I was so fond of her.

On the due date, October 1st I went to A morning of recollection in Winton, Oxford with Helena, Sonia, Sheila, and another I don’t remember. Feeling healthy I thought nothing of the forty minute drive and anyway, Helena was driving. I sat in the oratory and prayed. I was thinking about joining The Work (how members refer to Opus Dei) and was asking God if that’s what he wanted. Everything about it seemed to be just for me.

“Lord, if the baby comes tomorrow, then I’ll take it as a sign that I have a vocation,” and I hoped. The next day was the anniversary of the founding of the work,  2nd October 1928, which, obviously was significant. I read all I could about the founder Josemaria Escriva and loved his emphasis on holiness in the middle of the world - so attractive to me.

Sure enough that night I got inklings that baby was coming. Contractions on and off, fifteen minutes apart, then none for an hour. I’d had Branston Hicks contractions the week before, so initially didn’t get too excited.

“Do you think this is it?” Peter handed me a cup of tea.
“Just put it there,” I pointed to the coffee table while pacing up and down the living room. It was a Saturday so he was at home, which I was grateful for. By mid afternoon the pains were every ten minutes and sometimes closer.

“I think I should take you in,” he was getting nervous. His mum who had come up to look after the others agreed.

“No, we’ll wait a bit more.” I wanted to leave it as long as possible before going in.

An hour later we drove the fifteen minute journey to the Royal Bucks Hospital. Brenda met us and stayed with us the whole time, helping me have the birth I’d planned. Peter held my hand, tried to be helpful, always one for solving problems but completely out of his depth in this situation. With the absence of normal hospital equipment, although close at hand if needed, the room was set out like a bedroom, with comfortable chairs, coffee table with books on and pictures on the walls.

I walked about for a lot of the labour but eventually pulled myself  up onto the bed for the last stage.
Yes, the birth was painful, I won’t pretend it wasn’t, but I worked through it with my helpers and Katherine Sarah was born that evening weighing 6lbs 7 oz. She lay on top of me, Peter’s eyes filled up. He looked at me. I put out my hand to his, squeezed, both of us now shedding tears of joy.

As arranged, I was left without any drugs to expel the placenta, wanting everything to be as natural as possible. It wasn’t the normal way they did things, Brenda said and I’d read as much, that it could take quite a while for the placenta to come away. Baby was even still attached by the cord after ten minutes and was happy feeding.

“You’ve done it. And just the way you wanted, couldn’t have gone any better, so proud of you.” He kissed me gently on the forehead. He was right, all had gone well, very well.

“I know, she’s lovely, I’m so happy,” a delicious sense of achievement flowed warmly through my body.
I even got up after half an hour to go to the toilet. We’ll be home soon, I said to myself.

But it was not to be. The afterbirth came away, or so it seemed, but I started to feel unwell and it transpired that some of the placenta had been retained and I’d have to have a manual evacuation under general anesthetic.  We were not going home that night.

“Don’t let them give her anything, not even a drink of water,” I pointed my finger at my husband who stood there stressed, frowning.  I didn’t want to be separated from her and had genuine concerns and fears that they might decide she was hungry and give her formulae, which I was adamant she was not to have.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll make sure they don’t do anything untoward.” He rubbed my back while I gave baby her last feed of rich colostrum.
He was true to his word and when I woke later I heard her little whimper and looking around saw her in his arms, him cooing at her, the two of them totally in love.

Even though I was tired from the operation, I spent most of that first night feeding her. Peter had been sent  home. I was left alone. Staff wanted to take baby away too,  so I could get some sleep.  I knew there was no chance of that.
In those days we weren’t allowed to take the babies into bed with us so I sat in an upright chair, hooked up to a drip filled with IV antibiotics, and watched my baby feed, her little hand  squeezing my finger, both of us locked together in a sweaty embrace. I prayed through that night, thanking God for everything he’d given me.

Life with the  new baby.

“Oh mum, she’s so cute,” I lay on my bed,  Emma sat one side of me, James on the other.

“My turn now,” James positioned himself more uprightly. I prised the baby from Emma and placed  her in James’ outstretched arms. He immediately lifted her to his lips and kissed her forehead.

“She’s so tiny,” he said not taking his eyes off her.
 They loved their new sister form that first moment. They’d waited, peered out of our bedroom window and on seeing us, ran to meet us as we got out of the car.
 One of the first things Peter did was go shopping for some clothes for her. She was so small that the first size baby clothes we had swamped her. He ended up buying dolls clothes, which worked well for a month or so.

She was never without arms to hold her, from Peter’s mum and his sister Chris, my sisters Di and Kay, to all my new friends from church who came round with dinners, clothes, and cards, so many cards. It seemed that she brought joy into the world with her.

Life was good. I settled into a beautiful life, looking after our new addition and growing more and more in love with her as the days went on. Our little family grew close. At nine days, she was baptised, with my good friends Audrey and Jose as her Godparents. Audrey, now a catholic was over the moon to be asked, it was like we were family. They moved to Tenerife a few years later, to start a business. Although I was happy for them, I was also sad, especially as we couldn’t afford to go see them. We kept up contact by Christmas cards and the odd letter, but It would be  thirty two years before we’d see  them again, when in in 2016  Peter and I had week’s all-inclusive holiday in a hotel near where they live. We went for coffee had meals together and it was like the years just melted away. We definitely won’t leave it another thirty-two years.

When she was just eight weeks, I took Katie on retreat with me to Wickenden Manor, an Opus Dei house in Sussex. Helena took me down and had her four month old daughter, Mary Anne, with her. Three days of peace, praying, time to think, to work out with the Lord what this chapter of my life was going to be. Although we were in silence in the house, Helena and I found time to wander the grounds with the babies and chat. And sometimes I would keep her awake late in the evening with my enthusiasm to hear more about what it meant to live my vocation.

Life with our new baby was not only a great joy, but also so much easier than I expected. The feeding went well and I fed her anywhere, discretely, of course.  In fact, I had a better social life than ever before, visiting friends, going to prayer groups and church meetings. Nobody minded baby coming, quite the opposite, it was always a conversation starter.


“I need you to come home,” I never phoned him at work. Any problem or disaster could usually wait till he got home.

“What’s up, what’s the matter?” I could hear the machines in the background and the office door being shut. “That’s better, I can hear you now. What are you saying?”

I told him I was bleeding, that my tummy hurt, but not like when you have a period, that I nearly passed out.
By the time he got home I was in tears in the bathroom.

I’d thought I might be pregnant but as I hadn’t had any bleeding in the ten months since Katherine was born, I didn’t mention it.

“I’m sorry love, I was worried, I suppose it could be just the first period after so long, but it doesn’t feel right.” I knew in my heart it wasn’t.

“What do you want me to do?” he stood on the landing, looking at me.

“I’m not sure. Make a cup of tea for now.” I stayed put. He went downstairs.

“Love, can you come up,” I shouted out. He came bounding up the stairs.

 We both stared, both  peered  into the toilet bowl, both not knowing what to say, both linked hands trying to take it in. The fetus was not even the size of the palm of my hand, maybe seven or eight weeks, no more.
 Now, even thirty seven years later I find it hard to think of it, still a wound within me.

 There was only one other time I had a miscarriage. That was ten years later in 1993, in Studland Close. Our neighbour, Molly, helped me that time. There were eight children by then.  I lost a lot of blood, had to go into hospital for a D and C and a blood transfusion. Again, it was early, about twelve weeks. I don’t recall much, I was too ill, but like the first one it’s remained with me and when I tell people I have nine children inside my head I add, actually it’s eleven. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

Lockdown Grief

Lockdown Grief

On Easter Sunday this year I didn't cook dinner or come out of my isolation room except to eat what the others had cooked. Even that was a huge effort and I crawled back upstairs afterwards feeling exhausted and collapsed onto the bed. The fatigue was indescribable. My chest hurt, but not much. I had a temperature, aches and pains and a headache, all of which I was trying to control with paracetamol. We 'd been warned not to take Ibuprofen.  
  I'm not sure I had corona virus, all I know is that I was unwell and stayed alone in the tiny bedroom for a week. My husband and two grown up children living with me were also unwell, my daughter much worse than me, suffered for more than two weeks,  at one point looking so grey and in so much pain that I wanted to take her to hospital. She said no - typical nurse. I didn't sleep for two nights worrying about her.
We are all well now and lucky to have come out the other side without too much drama. Many more were not as fortunate.

Friday 27th March, in a village outside Birmingham, Brian noticed that he wasn't feeling right, that he was much more tired than usual. He managed to get himself to work but cocooned himself away in his office, leaving early, just after four. He went home and headed straight for bed, hoping the extraordinary tiredness he was experiencing would soon lift.

 The next morning, he found it extremely difficult to get up, but managed to drag himself out the door swallowing some pills along with an energy drink.
Being a store manager for one of the big supermarkets his duty called him in, especially with all the drama going on with people panic buying. That morning he was hoping the shelves would be at least half stocked for his customers. Still the toilet roll supply couldn't keep up and it barely made it out to the floor before it disappeared. They'd already limited the amount people could buy.
He struggled through two hours before, reluctantly, handing over to Lesley, his number two. Although she was more than capable, Brian didn't want to give her the weight of the responsibility what with all that was happening.
It never occurred to him that he might have the virus, thinking that his body was just reacting to the stress of the last few weeks, the uncertainty, the unpredictability.

The pains in his legs started the following Monday. Checking the NHS website and finding this was not one of the symptoms confirmed his thoughts. Ok, just rest then, he thought. But the pain was quite severe, so he took some paracetemol and stayed in bed.

"Morning Bri, are you feeling any better this morning?" Marie, his wife of sixteen years, left the tray down by the door. What she wanted to do was sneak in beside him and pull the duvet up over them both. He'd been in the spare room now for over a week and Marie and their three children were obviously worried, but also a bit fed up.
 "When's dad gunna show me the planet thing?" Rory, six, had asked her just before she went to make his breakfast. She didn't answer.
"I think so, chest still hurts though. I think I'll come down today." He did feel better and thought he must be over the worst.

"Ok, well, I'll change the bed while you're up. Mark and Rory will be pleased. And Jess wants help with her science, more your scene than mine" Jess was studious, ambitions. Even at the tender age of thirteen, she had her sights set on becoming a Doctor and was working out what she had to do to make it happen. Brian and Marie were proud of her and amazed at her dogged determination but suspected that eventually she'd change her mind. There was no one in the family in medicine. Marie herself was a primary school teacher.

Although a lot better, he wasn't well enough to go back to work and the recommendation if you had any of the symptoms was to self-isolate for fourteen days. He'd had a temperature and flu like symptoms, including a sore chest, but no dry cough. He now waited his time to get back to work.
In the meantime, he enjoyed having some time with the family, albeit not doing the normal thing they liked to do together, cycling, swimming, and exploring in the woods near their home. He and Jess spent an hour in the morning with her science books, which they both enjoyed, with her intermittently questioning him about his symptoms and looking them up on google.

On the 8th April, Wednesday of Holy Week, things suddenly took a turn for the worse. He woke with a bad headache and slightly breathless.

"Shall we call a doctor?" Marie asked, "you do look a bit grey.

"That'll be low oxygen," Jess studied her father's face, on her own there was a worried frown.

"No, it's not much, it'll settle." He rubbed Marie's shoulder gently, while nodding at Jess.  He knew they were worried, but he also knew he wasn't that bad. And the NHS were telling people only to come in if really bad. Also, he still didn't think it was the virus.
He'd only been back in his own bed for a couple of days, and now took himself back to the little room as much for peace for Marie as anything. He could feel her eyes on him in the night and thought they'd both sleep better if he went.

"Is dad gunna die?" Mark was on the spectrum. His deadpan face threw Marie, even though she knew this was a logical question to him.

"No, of course not," she tousled his head briefly.  He shook her off. He went to his room and shut the door.

From that day Brian went downhill rapidly. By Friday the 10th he was looking grey. He could still speak, but had real problems breathing and a cough had started, although he could still walk and talk easily. Marie phoned 111. A doctor rang back at 10.30 am and said better get to the hospital and be checked, to be safe. He might need some help breathing, oxygen for instance.

Marie drove him the twenty minutes to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which coincidentally has the largest critical care unit in the world. They were guided around the outside of the hospital by signs for suspected Covid 19 cases, which the doctor had told them to look out for.  When they got to the double doors, a nurse looking like a spaceman met them and taking one look at Brian ushered him in.

"Not you mam," the burly porter stood in front of Marie to physically stop her following.
Image result for free images of queen elizabeth hospital birmingham
"Hang on, wait," she called, "Brian, here take this." She held out her rosary, the one with crystal beads, the one she always had in her pocket, the one he bought her on their trip to the Holy Land a year ago when they celebrated their fifteenth anniversary.

The nurse nodded at Brian and he walked back to take it from her. He wasn't catholic and certainly never prayed the rosary, but he was thankful for his wife's expression of love and support, loving him her way.

"Thanks love" he smiled, their shared glance hanging in the air like mist for a moment before it was dissolved by the nurse's voice.  He looked back once before turning a corner. With one hand she gave him a little wave. With the other she wiped her eyes.

"Here's your bed," she pointed, "get settled and I'll be back in a minute"
He dropped onto the hard mattress and looked up and down the ward. Eight beds. A man in the next but one bed, hooked up to all sorts of instruments. Brian had not been in ICU before and did not find the clinical, serious atmosphere at all comforting. Over the next hour his blood was taken, his oxygen levels checked, and he was sent to Xray. When he came back a nurse put an oxygen mask on him saying that his levels were low. A doctor questioned him on his symptoms, then left saying he'd be back when they had the xray results, which wouldn't be long.

"I'm afraid you've got pneumonia.” He spoke softly as if that would help. “Looks like it's the virus so to help your lungs we'll keep you on oxygen and get you to lie on your tummy every few hours, see how you go. Any questions?"

"No," said Brian. He couldn't think of any just now anyway. He was a bit stunned. The words, it's the virus swam round and round in his head.  Where was his phone? He looked around him. Where were his things, his bag? He squeezed the rosary in his hand.

"I'd like my phone please." he said to the nurse when she came to check his obbs, which seemed like an age to him, but in reality was only a few minutes.
"Of course, as soon as I'm finished. But I don't want you to have your mask off for long, so just a couple of minutes, Ok?" she watched the machines, "We need to get your oxygen up, then you'll feel a lot better." She was cheerful, positive almost.

"OK," he said, a bit more relaxed now.
He could tell by Marie's voice and her red face ( the benefits of whatsapp),  that she'd been crying, so he smiled,  tried to comfort her, saying that it wouldn't be long, that he just needed to be monitored for a while, that he was sure he'd be home soon.

"Bye love, love you loads," he stared at the blank screen, his shoulders started to shake and he let the phone fall on the bed.

"Come on Brian, you're doing fine," she gave him some tissues to wipe his face, then put the mask back on.
By mid-afternoon rather than improving he deteriorated. His breathing was more laboured. They turned up the levels.

By next morning, Saturday, Brian was on maximum oxygen and still not improving. The doctor said he may need to go on a ventilator for a while to give his body a rest, because it was working so hard. They moved him to a room on his own now.

"Your wife can come in and see you through the window. Shall I phone her?"  her eyes, all he could see of her, showed compassion and love. How do they do it, he thought as he gave a slight nod of his head. He wasn't sure he wanted Marie to see him like this but he knew she'd want to.

"Here, speak to her," she put the phone in his hand, removed the mask from his face and tilted the bed so he could see. Marie was wearing her red dress, the one he'd told her he liked, had she done that on purpose? They both held their phones. He started coughing, struggling for each breath.

"Hello love," a croaky whisper. More coughing

"Hi, love you. We'll get through this. You concentrate on getting better," she sniffed. "So many people are praying." She touched the glass with her hand, holding it there like it was glued. “I want to hug you, be beside you, read to you, hold your hand"

"I know," more coughing.

"I'm afraid that's enough." the nurse took the phone.   I've had less than a minute, he thought. Marie stood up, looked in.

"He's not doing great, I'm afraid,” the nurse had put Brian’s mask back on and had come to see her, “we're going to have to ventilate him." Marie had been expecting this, but still, it was like she'd been punched in the abdomen.
"How long for? He will get better? What can I do?"

""We'll see how he goes. We're doing everything we can." Marie's mind drifted to the medical dramas, Chigaco Med among others, she watched with Jess. People really did say those things then. They're doing everything they can. She decided she wouldn't use those words to explain to the children what's happening to their dad.

A sense of betrayal came over her as she left the hospital. She should be with him. Every bone in her body ached to stay, to lay beside him, to breathe in the smell of him, but she was ushered out, told they'd ring her, told not to worry.

When Marie got home life went on. She comforted the children, kept them busy, busied herself with work around the house, planned meals, but she was acting out a lie. Things were not ok. Maybe that was the last conversation they'd have, maybe the children would never see their father again. She tried to get involved in the Easter season. In normal times, before Mr Corona Virus' visit, they would have gone to the Easter Vigil, one of the services which Brian would always come to.
But Easter wasn't happening for them this year. There would be no gathering of the family, no egg hunts for the younger cousins, which she always organised. No roast lamb dinner with her parents, her brother and sister and their families, no huge pavlova for pudding, Brian's annual contribution.

The next morning, Easter Sunday, Marie woke to her phone ringing. It was 5.15 am.

"Hello, sorry to ring so early, Doctor Anderson, from ICU. I'm afraid Brian’s gone into a coma. He’s very ill I’m afraid.   You can come and see him from the window if you'd like. I'm afraid we still can't let you in, it's too risky."
 What are these words, what do they mean?

"I'll come straight in." what else could she say?

"That's fine. We noticed he holds a rosary in his hand. Shall we ask a priest to come?"

"Yes, yes please." Why didn't she think of that? Because she didn't want to think he was dying, that's why.

Walking through the hospital, her heart was torn. She'd left the children behind not telling them much, but knowing that Jess would be researching and coming to her own conclusions.

"You can sit here," a new nurse put a chair in front of the window. You smell like lavender, Marie thought. She pictured the lavender plant in her garden, promising to give abundant flowers this year.
Marie looked into the room. This time Brian looked grey, lifeblood being drained out of him.
She stared and stared. 

At 6.20 pm the priest came, dressed in protective clothing. She recognised him as Fr Anthony from a neighbouring parish. Much later, when she could think straight, she would be very grateful that he was there, that he gave Brian comfort at the end, that she was there to see it.  Before he went in he gave her a blessing. 

At 7.09 that evening the doctor came out to tell her they were taking him off the ventilator, that they were really sorry, that they did everything they could. 
Mr Anderson offered her the rosary back.

"No, leave it with him please," she mumbled.